Tag Archives: folk gig

folk gig

Blackbeard’s Tea Party at the New Cross Inn 11/10/15

Raucous sounds, catchy tunes, dark lyrics and a whole lot of fun, Blackbeard’s Tea Party have been making a splash on the folk scene for some time now.

As well as loud electric guitar from Martin Coumbe and pumping electric bass from Tim Yates, what really makes this folk act rock is the presence of powerful duel percussionists, Liam “Yom” Hardy and Dave Boston, making Blackbeards’s Tea Party kind of the folk world’s answer to the Glitter Band. Laura Boston-Barber provides spiky, tuneful fiddle playing throughout. Stuart Giddens on lead vocals and melodeon was not the original singer but he’s been with the band several years now and his vocal delivery and hyperactive stage presence have meant he’s truly made the role his own, such that it would be difficult imagining anyone else filling it.

They’ve got a new album to promote “Reprobates” – featuring songs about a range of characters who are all engaged in activities that are either “illegal, immoral or ungodly” explains Giddens with a fair degree of relish. It’s literally just out in time for this gig so we get to hear a a selection of new song, like album opener The Steam Arm Man – about a soldier who loses an arm at Waterloo, builds himself a replacement which unfortunately turns haunted and takes him on a murderous rampage.

We do get a few old crowd favourites as well, such as the sing-along-and-do-the-actions-Agadoo-style Chicken On a Raft (it’s based on an old saying about sailors’ rations I understand and not “Chicken in a Wrap” as numerous of my friends have innocently sung while watching the band.)

I was lucky enough to see Blackbeard’s Tea Party at Cropredy festival in 2014 where they absolutely stormed the place. But they are just as enjoyable up the road in my local, The New Cross Inn, where they also stormed the place. They gig extensively and are well worth catching.

http://www.blackbeardsteaparty.com/

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Previous review: Blackbeard’s Tea Party at Cropredy

Richard Thompson at Royal Festival Hall 20/9/15

With countrified acoustic folk from his daughter, Kami, and son-in-law, James Walborne, forming the excellent support act The Rails (“nepotism gets you everywhere” quips Richard Thompson as the two take the stage once more to accompany Thompson for his first song), That’s Enough, a track from the Thompson clan’s recent “family album” kicks off tonight’s Richard Thompson performance. It shows that even several decades into his career, he is still writing really memorable songs. However, the acoustically driven start soon gives way to a full throttle electric performance. Thompson is joined by drummer, Michael Jerome, and Davey Faragher on bass, both excellent and hugely energetic musicians.

Much as I enjoyed his solo acoustic tour last year, Thompson is one of those guitarists who is equally brilliant and equally entertaining whether he’s playing acoustic or electric. The power trio format works well for Thompson’s material (they even do a brilliant version of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Hey Joe as an encore to prove just how much of a power trio they really are) and we get a nice mix of songs, old and new. The great thing about Thompson is that, in spite of his technical brilliance on the guitar, it’s never just about virtuoso wizardry. His undoubted skill as a songwriter means he’s always able to deliver memorable tunes and meaningful lyrics as well as incredible guitar playing.

The band leave the stage at one point, leaving Thompson on his own to do a lovely Meet on the Ledge. A song that Thompson wrote when he was just 17, I’ve seen it performed many times by Fairport Convention as their traditional set-closer. But it’s a nice change seeing it performed as an understated heartfelt ballad rather than the anthemic communal sing-along that it’s normally associated with these days. After a similar acoustic performance of 1952 Vincent Black Lightning it’s back to more from the electric trio: old classics like Wall of Death and new material like Guitar Heroes.

It says a lot for Thompson’s versatility as a performer that regardless of whether it’s a folky laid-back acoustic set or a rocking all-out electric set, I’ve never come away from a Richard Thompson gig feeling anything less than fully satisfied.

Setlist:
That’s Enough (with The Rails)
All Buttoned Up
Sally B
Broken Doll
For Shame of Doing Wrong
Hard on Me
Meet on the Ledge
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Beatnik Walking
Al Bowlly’s in Heaven
Guitar Heroes
Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?
I’ll Never Give It Up
Wall of Death
If Love Whispers Your Name
Hey Joe
Tear Stained Letter
She Never Could Resist a Winding Road
Fork in the Road
Take a Heart

http://www.richardthompson-music.com/

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Previous review: Richard Thompson at Folk by the Oak

Sam Kelly Trio at The Green Note 23/2/15

While I like to experience new acts, particularly new folk acts, I usually discover them as part of a festival line-up, or as support act to someone I do know or because I know one or more of the musicians from another project. It’s rare that I’ll go to a gig for someone I’m completely unfamiliar with, purely on spec. But the Sam Kelly Trio gig at Green Note in Camden caught my eye and here we are.

Singer and acoustic guitarist, Kelly, is joined by Jamie Francis on banjo and Evan Carson on drums/ bodhran. Although Kelly is clearly a talented singer song-writer, the trio set-up gives a real extra buzz to the performance. And although there’s a wide-range of material, from traditional English folk, to self-written, to country to traditional blues and more, the banjo gives the band a nice kind of Americana feel while at the same time remaining very, very English. And it gives the trio a clearly identifiable sound across the different types of material.

Tonight is the EP launch for their five-track release, Spokes. And for an event like this what would make more sense than performing the whole thing from start to finish in full? So after an initial selection of songs, ranging from country to blues, Kelly announces that this is precisely what the band will do. Highlights include a brilliantly lively version of traditional sailor’s song On Board a 98, which tells of a young man press-ganged into a life on the sea. The Kelly-penned Healing Hands is much gentler but a really beautiful song in the set. After performing all but the last track on the EP they do a couple of instrumental numbers and a Dylan cover then, called back for an encore, Kelly takes the stage alone to perform the final track from the EP. This is The Unquiet Grave, just him, his lovely vocals and beautiful acoustic guitar.

Tonight was a complete punt on a (to me) hitherto unknown act. But I’m glad I’ve become acquainted with the Sam Kelly Trio and I can see them going down a storm on the summer festival circuit.

http://www.samkelly.org/

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Albion Christmas Band at Kings Place 16/12/14

Although there have been many, many different versions of folk rock stalwarts The Albion Band over the decades, its seasonal variation The Albion Christmas Band is now into its sixteenth annual tour with the same line-up. This could be due to the respective personnel (Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Kellie While and Simon Care) getting fifty out of every fifty-two weeks off from one another every year, joked Nicol. They produce a simple but very effective sound based on electric bass, acoustic guitars, melodeon and percussion with vocals shared between the four.

I’ll be upfront that my attachment to religion is somewhere at the Richard Dawkins end of the scale. But just as you don’t need to believe in wizards to enjoy prog rock, you don’t need to believe in Jesus to enjoy a few Christmas songs and carols. This is especially true if they are played and sung as well as they are by the Albion Christmas Band. We get to some classic carols later but one of the early songs tonight is The King. The “king” in this case is not Jesus but rather the wren, the song being based on the winter old custom where a wren was placed in a garlanded box and taken door to door.

As well as his founding role in Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band, Hutchings is also acclaimed for his album Morris On. And we get a selection of pounding Border Morris tunes tonight which, unlike its Oxfordshire counterpart with its focus on spring, the variety along the Welsh borders always had strong associations with winter festivities. Mad World is a song by 80s synth-pop act Tears for Fears and for a while was constantly on the juke box in the refectory at my sixth form in Preston. It was then given a bleak but very effective stripped down makeover in 2003 and became a surprise Christmas number 1. And now The Albions have given it the folk treatment.  Beautifully sung by While it was one of the real highlights of the evening, even though its connections to Christmas are tenuous to say the least.

Part of the band’s set is usually given over to Christmas readings of one sort or another. These have included historical excerpts describing a variety of Victorian Christmases and big family celebrations in rural village inns. Tonight Nicol got to do a modern take on the nativity. It all got a bit passé and UKIP-y (in a “they’ve-banned-Christmas –political-correctness-gone-mad sort of way) and seemed a not particularly funny and un-necessary diversion from the Albion Band’s uplifting brand of Christmas magic. The same could not be said of Christmas 1914, a song written by Mike Harding which is a poignant and moving commemoration of the famous Christmas truce, told from the perspective of an ordinary British and ordinary German soldier as they “lost the will to fight.” There was also a good selection of more well-known songs, too, including a lovely rendition of In The Bleak Midwinter and a rousing sing-along in We Three Kings.

The venue is a beautiful modern performance space, the singing and playing is great but in some ways there seemed to be slightly less of a buzz in the air than when the band played the same venue this time last year, available now as a newly-released live album. Of course, last year had the added sparkle of Ashley Hutchings being presented with his Gold Badge Award from the English Folk Dance and Song Society by the renowned 60s/70s record producer (and discoverer of Fairport Convention)  Joe Boyd. But, if you set aside the laboured attempt at satire it was a great evening with great music.

http://www.albionchristmas.co.uk/

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The Full English at Great British Folk Festival 7/12/14

The Full English archive has been a major cultural heritage exercise pulled together by the English Folk Song and Dance Society, resulting in a gigantic online resource of songs, tunes and dances that were originally assembled by some of the most renowned late Victorian and Edwardian era folk song collectors. There have been numerous spin-offs from the project, including study days, schools programmes, not to mention an album and a live band.

Academic and performer, Fay Hield, was commissioned to pull the musical project together and assembled a band with some of the key figures from contemporary folk.  Joining Hield were Seth Lakeman, Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Ben Nichols, Rob Harbron and Sam Sweeney. A successful tour and album followed, so successful in fact that they’ve all got together again a year later for another tour which culminates in tonight’s performance at the Centre Stage venue at Butlin’s Skegness. Although this is very much a folk gig rather than a folk-rock gig (acoustic instruments, no drums), it is impossible to overstate the sheer instrumental power of the band on stage tonight.  The quality of the musicianship and the singing is absolutely superb but the Full English was always about celebrating the songs and they have the most brilliant set of songs to offer.

As with the album, the band opens with Awake Awake. The sound (which had caused problems for other acts over the weekend) was perfect, the atmosphere was electric and it became clear that this performance would be the definite highlight of the 2014 Great British Folk Festival.  I have played the Full English CD over and over again this past year but those watching the live show are treated to additional songs as well that are not on the original album. This includes a wonderfully eccentric version of King of the Cannibal Island sung by Nichols. Apparently, 19th century missionaries had a vested interest in whipping up public hysteria about cannibalism as it was great for the fundraising for future missions. This song has its roots in such propaganda. I Wandered By a Brookside and High Banbaree are other welcome additions. Fans of the album, though, will have been pleased to hear Simpson sing Creeping Jane, Portrait of My Wife sung by Lakeman and  Hield and Kerr’s wonderful duet on Arthur O’Bradley, the traditional tale of the archetypal wedding from hell.

Not all of the songs are actually from the original archive. Fol-the Day-o is a new song written by Kerr to celebrate the traditional songs and music in the archive while Linden Lea (a song I remember learning at primary school for an evening of patriotic songs to celebrate the Silver Jubilee) the William Barnes poem that Ralph Vaughan Williams set to music. Both are there to demonstrate that folk music survives and thrives well beyond the era of the golden age of Edwardian folk-song collectors.

Coming back on to rapturous applause they encored with Man In The Moon, an old music hall song who’s lyrics and tune somehow became separated but were re-united once more thanks to the Full English archive. It’s one of the most memorable songs on the album and this long lost song is well on its way to becoming a modern-day folk classic. We were all encouraged to sing along enthusiastically, perhaps demonstrating Cecil Sharp’s maxim that it’s the selection for community singing that makes a song a folk song, rather than the format for which it was originally written.  Or maybe an out-of-season performance in the main show-bar at Butlin’s isn’t too far from music hall anyway. Whatever, it was a great song to finish a spectacular performance of one of the most significant folk music projects in many, many years.

http://www.thefullenglishband.co.uk/

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The Young ‘uns at Great British Folk Festival 7/12/14

A bit of humorous banter between songs and a few amusing anecdotes do often help bring a folk gig to life and allow the artist to interact properly with the audience. But all too often the off-the-cuff “spontaneous” banter starts to become a bit repetitive when you see the same artist trotting out the same old carefully rehearsed lines gig after gig. No-one could ever, ever accuse the Young ‘uns of doing this, however. So side-splittingly hilarious are these three twenty-something Teesiders that a gig like tonight’s at times threatens to descend into riotous chaos. The music they produce together, though, is to be taken very seriously indeed. The three, Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes, got into folk in their teens and have been performing together ever since. Beautiful harmony singing with simple accordion and acoustic guitar backing they are definitely one of the highlights of this year’s Great British Folk Festival, which comes to Skegness’s out-of -season Butlin’s holiday camp each December

Traditional sea shanties, juxtaposed with songs reflecting the north-east’s industrial heritage, mixed in with some biting but elegantly-written social commentary, together with a few well-chosen covers – it all makes for a varied and fascinating set-list. And given it’s almost Christmas we also get a few traditional wassailing songs thrown in as well. Tonight’s performance saw them introducing some songs from their forthcoming album (to be released next Spring). When a film crew from the notorious Channel 4 show, Benefits Street, descended on one street in Stockton-on-Tees they were physically chased away by local residents. You Won’t Find Me on Benefits Street appears on the album and is performed tonight – celebrating proud defiance in the face of grinding poverty and humiliating set-backs.

Having already released three albums, the trio have now gathered a strong back catalogue of material to draw on.  One song that always goes down exceptionally well at live shows is Cooney’s Love in a Northern Town, documenting not only the true story of how his grandparents met but also the wholesale decline of the Wearside shipyards “where all her ships and men are gone.”

Well-written meaningful songs that are beautifully sung it is well worth getting hold of the Young ‘uns albums. But for a real taste of the trio’s infectious humour and brilliant stage presence you have really, really got to see them live as well.

http://www.theyounguns.co.uk/

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Previous review: Young ‘uns at Cecil Sharp House

Ray Jackson’s Lindisfarne at Great British Folk Festival 6/12/14

The appetite for band resurrections and reunions appears undiminished, sometimes with a worrying lack of quality control and often with the use of an old band name (or some variation of it) aimed at maximising ticket sales over any genuine consideration for the band’s legacy.  One of the latest returns to the gig circuit is Newcastle-based folk-rockers, Lindisfarne. No-one can deny how popular this band were in the early 70s and no-one can deny the huge affection there still is for this band, especially in the north-east. But although they were one of the Saturday night headliners at this year’s Great British Folk Festival at Skegness Butlins, I was more than a little sceptical. They are billed as Ray Jackson’s Lindisfarne for starters, always a tell-tale sign that you are unlikely to be seeing more than one original member on stage. The programme advertises them as “containing former members from all three past eras of the band.” This was not actually a reunion of bandmates who had actually worked on stage together in the same band at the same time therefore. Indeed, one could be forgiven for thinking that Jackson had merely worked his way through a list of ex-members in his old address book until he had almost assembled a full set (but scratching his head when it came to locating a drummer and having to recruit ex-Roxy Music drummer, Paul Thompson instead).

However, as the band start playing it is clear that Jackson has assembled a very strong line-up of musicians who actually gel together really well. The atmosphere gets better and better as the gig proceeds and the mood in the crowd gets ever livelier and ever more celebratory.   Classic songs like Lady Eleanor, Meet Me On The Corner as well as what was introduced as a song you may have heard of about “weather conditions on a river”, their most famous number Fog on the Tyne.  Vocal duties are shared between Jackson and Dave Hull-Denholm, son-in-law of the late frontman, who sings the songs written by his father-in-law, Alan Hull in a vocal style that is very reminiscent of the original.

The band sound good. My scepticism was indeed misplaced. This is an affectionate, credible and highly enjoyable celebration of one of Newcastle’s most loved bands, fronted with conviction by one of their founder members. When the band resurrected their famous annual Christmas show at Newcastle City Hall last year it is not difficult to see why it sold out in just six hours.

http://www.lindisfarne.co/

Peter Knight’s Gigspanner at The Stables, Hastings 27/11/14

Gigspanner is not Steeleye Span. In spite of the slight similarity in name and in spite of the presence of long-standing ex-Steeleye fiddle supremo, Peter Knight, Gigspanner are a different proposition from the folk-rock legends entirely. And utterly wonderful for it, they are too.

Those attending a Gigspanner concert can expect a slew of varied musical influences: English folk-song, Irish traditional, French waltzes, Cajun playing, African sounds, and many more, all form part of the repertoire. The result is far from a random around-the-world mish-mash, however. Knight’s virtuoso fiddle combines with Vincent Salzfass’s conga drums and Roger Flack’s distinctive semi-acoustic electric guitar-playing to create something truly unique. Together, and it’s clear from seeing the three of them on stage how much they feed off working with one another, the trio create a sound that’s both coherent and instantly identifiable,  producing a recognisable Gigspanner feel across whatever they do. The way Salfaaz builds up a rhythm on his congas is a delight to hear and utterly captivating to witness. Royal Academy-trained Knight provides everything you would expect from one of the UK’s foremost folk fiddle-players, playing magnificently on tunes like The Butterfly, a traditional tune the band have turned into an absolute musical masterpiece. But you get much more out of Knight’s fiddle besides. Finger plucking his instrument for some of the numbers (like Dave Roberts’ French Waltz and Bonny Birdy) he draws some truly amazing sounds out of it. They even do a fast and furious Cajun fiddle number where Knight plays the instrument with his bow while Flack joins him pounding the very same strings with elongated drum sticks, or fiddle sticks as the famous expression has it

I have seen Gigspanner on numerous occasions but tonight’s performance being in Hastings, where the trio formed and continue to play regularly, gives it added poignancy. A number of the songs and tunes tonight have a direct Hastings connection, including Seagull, a song recalling Knight’s days spent playing shove ha’penny in one of the local pubs, and Rolling Down the Bourne, a tune named after the main thoroughfare (and underground stream) which runs through Hastings Old Town where the Stables Theatre is based.

A talented, imaginative and hugely creative trio, Gigspanner live is something well worth witnessing. Just don’t go expecting All Around My Hat…

http://www.gigspanner.com/index.html

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Previous review: Gigspanner at Whitstable

Nancy Kerr & Sweet Visitor Band at Cecil Sharp House 20/11/14

One of the most distinctive voices on one of the most significant folk collaborations of 2014, Nancy Kerr’s incredible song-writing and memorable performances on the Elizabethan Session have already made it a folk classic. And she does bring something unique to contemporary folk. No-one loves the pure, crystal clear vocals from the likes of Sandy Denny and Jacqui McShee more than me. They were always an intrinsic and essential feature of the late 60s folk revival in England and their influence rings out to this day. But as beautiful as those voices are, I’ve often wondered how many female vocalists in past centuries really went around delivering folk renditions in Received Pronunciation. Nancy Kerr, on the other hand, has a different vocal style altogether. Earthy and wonderfully expressive, with echoes of an old-time music hall singer thrown in, her voice is no less beautiful and utterly enthralling.

Tonight there is a good turnout for Kerr and her band in the main Kennedy Hall at Cecil Sharp House. The band begin with Never Ever Lay Them Down, the opening track from Kerr’s new album, Sweet Visitor. Described by the vocalist/fiddle-player as a song about city life and love in and age of austerity it is the perfect vehicle, not only for Kerr’s distinctive voice, but also for the rocked-out folk backing from her incredibly talented band. Joining Kerr on fiddle and lead vocals are James Fagan on guitar; Tom Wright on drums, electric and acoustic guitars; Tim Yates on double bass; and Rowan Rheingans on fiddle.

Other highlights tonight include Where Jacaranda’s Grow, Kerr’s reflection on the increasingly hysterical immigration debate in Australia whose lyrics, she noted with sadness, were now also equally relevant to Britain. She also gave us fabulous renditions of a couple of songs she was commissioned to write for the BBC ahead of the 2012 Games. The first, Apollo on the Docks, talks of the coming of the Olympics to the “banks of the Lea” and “Old Silvertown”. With its catchy melody and instantly memorable chorus, even though its subject matter is only a little over two years old, it sounds like it could have been written a hundred years ago and could well become a modern sing-along folk classic.

Kerr reflects warmly on her experiences as part of The Elizabethan Session earlier this year and one of the songs she performs from that tonight is the brilliant Broadside. Those expecting a carbon copy rendition of the original, however, are in for a surprise. This is very much the heavy metal version and Fagan lets rip on guitar. “Why try and compete with Martin Simpson?” he explains.

The band encore with Now Is The Time from the new album, a secular hymn for all those campaigning for a better world, with poignant harmony singing from the whole band. To experience such an illustrious band, talented singer and wonderful songs at Cecil Sharp House, the iconic home of English folk music, is a real delight. The main hall is in need of a bit of TLC these days (there is a restoration appeal) but when the house lights dim it provides a wonderfully atmospheric setting for a very memorable performance from Nancy Kerr and the Sweet Visitor Band.

http://nancykerr.co.uk/

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Related reviews: The Elizabethan Session and The Full English

Oysterband with June Tabor at Bexhill-On-Sea 27/9/14

If you think you’ve seen the run of charming but fairly samey faded seafront concert venues, Bexhill-on-Sea’s De La Warr Pavilion is something quite spectacular. A beautiful and lovingly restored 1930s modernist building it proves to be a worthy setting for Oysterband and June Tabor.  Following an acoustic set from singer-songwriter (and talented guitarist) Sam Carter as support, the band initially do a set on their own featuring songs from their latest album, Diamonds on the Water, as well as older favourites.  The Wilderness, one of the new ones, was inspired by the band’s trip to Canada where, on a day off from touring, they experienced the natural wonders but also the potential dangers of the Rocky Mountains and its fearsome bear population. “You’re not the master here” goes the chorus of this poignant reflection on man and nature.

After a short break, Oysterband perform their second set with guest singer, the great June Tabor. Both band and singer have illustrious back catalogues and both are stalwarts of the folk and festival scene. But the two combined produce something very special indeed. Their first collaboration was in 1990 on the acclaimed Freedom and Rain album. They followed this up with a further collaboration in 2011, Ragged Kingdom, and live collaborations have continued on and off for many years. Their set tonight delivers songs from both of these albums, a superb mix of traditional folk songs, like Bonny Bunch of Roses and Dark Eyed Sailor, together with inspired folk-rock covers of such marvellously un-folky material as Velvet Underground’s All Tomorrow’s Parties and Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, which Tabor and John Jones of Oysterband sing as a duo.  Seeing is believing for anyone who has the slightest doubts about the beauty of these songs in the hands of Tabor and Oysterband.

The band has a distinctive sound. It’s folk-rock but, unlike their predecessors who pioneered the genre, having emerged in the late 70s rather than the late 60s the cultural references are different with a more contemporary feel and this is reflected in the sound. Allied with Tabor’s unique voice it is little wonder that this has been hailed as one of the most successful musical collaborations in the world of folk and folk-rock. The audience tonight is clearly in agreement. The appreciation and warm affection for both are clearly apparent throughout tonight’s performance.

http://www.oysterband.co.uk/

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